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Certifications & Compliance: Corporate Responsibility


After food safety, the second major area of certification involves corporate responsibility.

With companies increasingly expected to follow best practices, fairly compensate workers, create more diverse workforces and management teams, and promote methods of production that allow for sustainable environmental practices, many are seeking voluntary certifications to establish themselves as good corporate citizens.

This is especially important in the produce industry, where labor is a challenge here and abroad, and it’s crucial to have clean soil and water resources. Many certifiers are recommending a move away from cash crops and promoting biodiversity, while still ensuring fields are productive.

Returning to the bottom-line issue when obtaining certifications, Tristan Simpson, founder and CEO of Tristan Michele Marketing, whose clients include Fair Trade USA, says there can be an immediate payoff for the right match between companies and certifiers.

“Certifications such as organic, Fair Trade, and other sustainability certifications can provide access to premium markets that value these attributes,” she says. “Premium pricing in such markets can contribute to higher profit margins.”

Simpson lists the following as desirable and important certifications for responsible corporate governance: Certified Sustainable Agriculture, Certified Crop Advisor status, and organic certification from a respectable standard-bearer, as well as GlobalG.A.P., HACCP [Hazard Analysis Critical Control Point], Fair Trade, and Non-GMO Project verification.

She also recommends GMO-Free certification and Certified Naturally Grown, depending on a company’s needs and situation.

Minos Athanassiadis, vice president of iFoodDS, a provider of food safety and traceability solutions, and managing partner of Fresh Link Group, LLC, a consulting firm in Bakersfield, CA, also cautions that companies shouldn’t get carried away with seeking every certification under the sun, but should focus on what’s required by their clients, customers, and regulators.

“The importance of a voluntary certification varies by product and buyer: Whole Foods may require Fair Trade certification for tropical fruit, but Kroger may not.

“I see certifications such as Fair Trade, Non-GMO, etc., as marketing tools that provide consumers with higher levels of clarity and transparency. Compliance certifications such as GlobalG.A.P. and SQF [Safe Quality Food] are different because, for the most part, they’re required by the buyer.”

He notes that while most companies can figure ROI based on food safety and other compliance requirements, this too can vary based on a buyer’s demand, or can be calculated based on a projected increase in sales by distinguishing one’s product from the competition.

And compliance structures, especially those involving corporate responsibility, can mean much more than a mere boost to the bottom line. Jaclyn Bowen, executive director of the Clean Label Project, points out that almost all certification programs carry some form of benefit.

“It can be confusing what some certifications mean, or even what they’re for,” she says. “But in general, they provide a degree of reassurance to consumers that something extra was done by the manufacturer to ensure its products meet a specific criterion.”

The benefit of this confidence can accrue throughout the industry. “To more informed consumers, certifications provide an invaluable resource—a level of assurance that a specific requirement has been satisfactorily met,” Bowen explains.

“For manufacturers, certifications are vital to assure their supply chain is meeting or exceeding expectations,” she says. “This reduces the cost of the product, as each manufacturer shoulders less burden in maintaining oversight of the supply chain. For regulators, these certifications are a means of ensuring enforcement of legislation while helping to protect consumers.”

As good governance and corporate responsibility become more important and new certifications proliferate, it’s important to understand the value of each one as it relates to a company’s target markets, says Natalia Gamarra Cockle, business development manager at Suterra, a provider of natural pest control solutions based in Bend, OR.

“The development of new certifications is an ongoing process, driven by emerging trends, market demands, and evolving consumer preferences,” she says. “It’s difficult to predict specific certifications that may be valuable in the future, as it depends on various factors like market dynamics, regulatory changes, and emerging concerns related to sustainability.”

Gamarra recommends companies stay informed of developing trends and position themselves to meet the needs of a changing market.

This is an excerpt from a feature story from the March/April 2024 issue of Produce Blueprints Magazine.